Why is purpose important in the workplace?


By Rebecca Griffiths, Freelance Business Psychologist

Having Purpose -01

We are purposeful creatures; we need structure, routine and goals to function effectively. 


Every one of us is working towards something, be it getting through difficult times in life or bettering ourselves at a hobby or desirable trait. Everyone has a sense of purpose; without it we lose our way and become demotivated and depressed. Studies have shown that when people are contributing to a higher purpose, they are likely to have a healthier outlook on life and be more resilient to stress. The same is true in the workplace.

What happens without purpose? 

Often people amble through their working lives feeling unmotivated and under appreciated, but they keep going. Even when they experience dissonance at work, many push it to the back of their mind continuing to work towards their own sense of purpose, be that making money to support the family or getting through the 9-5 so they can begin their hobby. This is unsustainable; employees become unhappy, demotivated and stop fulfilling their potential. Giving your talent a sense of purpose at work can mean the difference between them doing a great job and a mediocre one. 

What are the first steps to understanding an organisation’s purpose?

Sometimes an organisation or departments’ sense of purpose may be obvious, for example a healthcare or environmental organisation, where people are clear on the aims of the company and are able to relate to and understand how these companies can create a better world for themselves and the general public (provided they are operating ethically). Other organisations or departments however, may find it more difficult to articulate their purpose and thus employees could find alignment more challenging.

Consider a department responsible for investing. Given the fairly recent recession and the reputation of bankers that some people currently hold, encouraging workers to align to the bank’s broader purpose may prove difficult. Luckily, more often than not, the salaries in these departments are very high and so people are drawn towards working in these divisions. However, although this may initially attract talent, retaining talent, without making consistent and regular increases in salaries or offering huge bonuses, could be tough.

The key is giving people a sense of purpose outside of monetary gain. Aligning employee’s performance goals to company values will help them to feel that their daily work is contributing to a broader purpose.

How do we build a purposeful culture?
  1. Align department goals with the broader company strategy and encourage understanding of how broader organisational values can help them to achieve success
  2. Align employee’s performance goals to department goals
  3. Encourage workers to share their goals across teams, building affinity with their colleagues and ownership across functions
  4. Encourage workers to work interdependently across functions to achieve their goals, working outside of perceived role boundaries in pursuit of the broader purpose
  5. Communicate and reward behaviour consistent with values

Due to its flexibility and scalability, this could be applied across organisations or within smaller flailing teams.

About the author

Rebecca GriffithsRebecca Griffiths is a freelance business psychologist and creative writer specialising in employee engagement.

Rebecca has a background in delivering consultancy in business transformation and organisational development at companies such as PA Consulting and Bupa, as well working for many years in HR in the banking industry.

Rebecca can be found on LinkedIn and if you enjoyed this article and would like to read more, why not visit her blog ‘Practising Psychology at Work’.